These security flaws can be exploited to threaten mobile phones usability and lead to greater cybersecurity threats such as Qualcomm Snapdragon chips.

With over 3 billion users globally, smartphones are now an integral, almost inseparable part of our day-to-day lives.

Their increasing compute power and sophistication also incur a cybersecurity penalty. If any component contains vulnerable code, any brand or model of smartphone using that component is susceptible to compromise.

These vulnerabilities could have the following impact:

  • Attackers can turn the phone into a perfect spying tool, without any user interaction required 
    The information that can be exfiltrated from the phone includes photos, videos, call-recording, real-time microphone data, GPS and location data, etc.
  • Attackers may be able to render the mobile phone constantly unresponsive
    This means making all the information stored on the phone permanently unavailable—in other words, a targeted Denial-of-Service attack.
  • Malware and other malicious code can completely hide their activities and become un-removable.

Check Point researchers disclosed these findings with Qualcomm, which has acknowledged the vulnerabilities and notified the relevant device vendors of the following common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs):CVE-2020-11201, CVE-2020-11202, CVE-2020-11206, CVE-2020-11207, CVE-2020-11208 and CVE-2020-11209.

What is a DSP?

A DSP (Digital Signal Processor) is a system on a chip that has hardware and software designed to optimize and enable each area of use on the device itself, including:

  • Charging abilities (such as “quick charge” features)
  • Multimedia experiences e.g., video, video capture, advanced augmented reality abilities
  • Various audio features

Simply put, a DSP is a complete computer on a single chip—and almost any modern phone includes at least one of these chips. While DSP chips are a relatively economical solution that allows mobile phones manufacturers to provide end users with more functionality and enable innovative features, they do come at a security cost. These chips introduce new attack surface and weak points to these mobile devices. DSP chips are much more vulnerable to risks as they are being managed as “Black Boxes”. This refers to the fact that only the manufacturer of a DSP chip can review its design, functionality or code.

Fertile ground for hackers

Check Point Research believes that the use of third-party DSPs may constitute fertile ground for critical vulnerabilities that may have a severe impact on millions of people around the world. Any fixes to vulnerabilities requires a long chain of communication between many vendors, manufacturers and resellers. For this reason, the cybersecurity which can also help mitigate digitalization, company decided to review and perform a deep dive on the security posture of one of the most common chips available today—Qualcomm’s Snapdragon.

Using fuzz testing technologies, researches were able to gaining a rare insight into the internals of the DSP chip, effectively review the chip’s security controls and then identify its weak points. To learn more about this research, watch their presentation at the DEFCON virtual conference.

The lesson behind this disclosure of DSP vulnerabilities is for organizations to invest extra due diligence when working with third party supplies, and end users to install mobile security solutions and practice cybersecurity hygiene such as frequent backups.